Diana Santee #10: Restin

Chapter One

I knew I had to go. Arlie had sent me a wire telling me that her husband Jeff was missing on the assignment he'd accepted, and no matter how much I wanted to stay with Val and our son I still had to go. Jeff and I had worked too long together as Special Agents - and we'd lost too much blood together - for me to be able to pass up the chance to help him. If he still needed help, that is… Or was alive enough to appreciate it…

I looked at Vadin, asleep in his bed, and tried to accept the fact that it would be an absolute minimum of four months before I saw him again. Two months to get to the Federation, and two months to get back to the Absari Confederacy again. Plus whatever time I might have to spend looking for Jeff.

I cursed the fact that the only man alive who had the chance to keep me married to him had to live on a world so far away from the Federation that I'd been born in. Even if I found Jeff alive and well as soon as I arrived and was able to turn right around, my son would be nine months old before I'd be able to hold him again.

I left Vadin to sleep in peace and went back to the apartment's salon to think about Val for a while. I'd tried to reach him to tell him where I was going, but the emergency he'd gone to handle put him behind an area of no communication.

Not being able to get through had bothered me at first, but after thinking about the matter I decided it might be best this way. Val expected us to start our next family addition when he got back, and I wasn't sure how reasonably he'd take to the idea of me going off after Jeff. Val tended to be stuffy about me and danger…

I went to the buffet and poured myself a cup of flav. I'd only be able to take a few things with me when I left tomorrow, but the choice wouldn't be very hard. I'd have no use for the sort of gown I was now wearing, so only jumpsuits would be packed. Aside from the fact that I'd never really liked wearing dresses of any sort, the gowns would tend to bring me too much attention. I had no intention of even hinting at the fact that my husband was a prince on his home planet.

I was almost to the point of deciding to go to bed to insure a really early start in the morning when the salon's door chime sounded. One of the girls who looked after the apartment and Vadin came in to answer the chime, and when she opened the door she bowed deeply. My caller was no one other than Val's father, His Majesty King Thandin of Aysanne. Thandin strolled in with a pleasant expression on his face, which gave me a small bit of hope that he and I might not argue this time. But knowing Thandin, the hope was very slight.

"Good evening, dhana," Thandin said in his deep voice as he walked closer. "You seem much refreshed from your recent trip. Am I to assume that your time at the Tildor base has aided you in settling your differences with Valdon?"

"Oh, Val and I still have differences, but they're nothing we can't … discuss," I answered rather blandly. "How were things on Aysanne while we were away?"

"Matters have gone as always they do," he replied in his usual vague way when it came to discussing business with me. Thandin didn't believe in talking business with women, and as he settled himself on the couch beside me he quickly changed the subject as he studied me. "I see another difference in you as well, dhana. When you departed with Valdon, you had fair skin with your dark eyes and hair. Now your skin is dark as well, which imparts a rather … unsettled appearance. I would have you explain this change."

"There's really not much to the matter," I answered, watching my words carefully. "You people with original Absari blood change your looks whenever you please all on your own. I can't do the same, so I took advantage of the help at Tildor base."

"I see," Thandin said with a nod as he continued to study me. "You wished to alter your appearance and therefore did so. No other consideration was involved."

"Well, there might have been one or two other, minor reasons," I allowed, not about to go into detail about what had happened on Tildor. "But you don't want to be bored with hearing those minor reasons, so let's talk about something else."

"We will discuss this topic," Thandin ordered in a hard, flat voice, the pleasant expression entirely gone now as he pulled something out of his tunic. "I found this paper on the floor of my office after Valdon had left. I was unable to read the language written on the page, yet that lack was of no moment. I merely sent for a linguist, who eventually informed me that what I had found was a slave ownership document. The slave described herein is a barbarian woman who nevertheless sounds uncannily familiar. Tell me, dhana, have you any knowledge of who the woman described might be?"

I silently cursed that damned ownership paper, wishing that Val was still here so I could hit him with something hard. I'd wanted the ownership paper destroyed, but Val had insisted on keeping it.

"Thandin, there's nothing to get excited about," I said after a very brief hesitation, picking my words even more carefully. "All that happened was that Val and I went down on Tildor and we came back up again. How sinister does that sound to you?"

"And naught occurred between those times?" Thandin pursued, refusing to quit giving me a beady-eyed stare. "You merely visited and returned?"

"What could happen?" I countered with full innocence, giving him a wide-eyed stare and a small shrug. "It isn't as though Val and I are helpless, after all."

"You do well answering question with question," Thandin observed, clearly not pleased. "If nothing untoward occurred, why do you retain that skin color?"

"Val likes it," I improvised, at the same time telling myself that I wasn't really lying. Val did like the way I now looked - in a way.

"My son cares for your appearance so greatly that he took pains to alert the clinicians to it," Thandin told me with narrowed eyes. "When you see the clinicians on the morrow, they are to counter the dye as quickly as possible. So that you no longer catch the eye of every man who sees you, as Valdon put it. The dye could have been countered sooner, dhana - unless it had been necessary for you to undergo Healing. Now I will have the truth! How were you injured on Tildor?"

"It was just a scratch," I said with another shrug, then got up to walk around a bit. "A scratch from a simple knife fight. You know how good I am with a knife, Father. There wasn't anything to - "

"A knife fight!" Thandin roared, making me flinch as he shot to his feet. "Do not think to cozen me with the name of father, dhana! I do indeed consider myself your father, and will speak to you as such. You dared to risk yourself and my son's future offspring by engaging in a knife fight? If you admit to a slight injury, the wound must have been grave indeed. When will you learn that such activities are not for a woman?"

He stood there glaring at me with his fists on his hips, so I stopped where I was and folded my arms.

"Knife fights are for anyone who can handle them," I stated, no longer in the mood to be diplomatic. "I was carrying and using a knife long before I met your son, and I have no intention of forgetting everything I learned. I am a woman, and proud of it, but I'm also a Special Agent. I won't stop being a Special Agent any more than I'll stop being a woman."

"You have not as yet begun to be a woman," Thandin grated, obviously hating everything I'd said. "A woman sees to the comfort of her husband and bears his children. She does not plague her husband by involving herself in danger far from their home. I thank the Mother of All Life that soon you will no longer be able to fly about at will. The child that will grow within you will keep you in your proper place."

I frowned at the heavy satisfaction he now showed, and he nodded.

"Yes, I know too that the block is to be removed from you on the morrow," he confirmed, the heavy satisfaction increasing. "When Valdon returns he will see to it that no time is lost in planting his seed deep within you. No woman is lovelier than one whose body swells with the child she is to bear, and I look forward to seeing you looking lovely in such a way."

"Do you really," I said in what was almost a growl, already having straightened to my full height. "And what if I said that it would please me to stay just as I am now? And that if you want to see a body swelling with child, you might go out and get pregnant yourself?"

"Do not speak in such a way!" the mighty king roared, all that ugly satisfaction wiped clean off. "It is a woman's place to bear children, not a man's!"

"Maybe that's why men think the condition is so lovely," I sneered. "Because they're safe from having to try it themselves. I think that now's a good time to tell you something, Your Majesty. Whatever Val and I decide on between us is our business and none of yours. If I teach you nothing else between now and the day I die, it will be to mind your own business!"

"You may not speak to me in such a manner," Thandin growled, his tone cold. "A true father knows it his duty to concern himself with his children's well-being."

"You make it sound as if I were six years old," I said with a sound of ridicule. "I'm a grown woman, one who's fully capable of seeing to her own well-being. As a matter of fact, I insist on seeing to myself. If the idea disagrees with you, there are plenty of other places to live on Aysanne. Val can commute to work or he can see me when he's free, whichever he prefers. But I won't put up with this interference any longer."

I walked away from Val's father, stopping near a wall but not really seeing it. I ran my hands through my hair, trying to calm the churning inside me, but made no headway whatsoever. Thandin was silent for a moment, then I heard his footsteps bringing him closer.

"Dhana, this is not like you," Thandin protested from behind me, his voice now filled with confusion. "You have often disliked the idea of my interest in you, yet you have never before threatened to leave the safety of my roof."

"There's a first time for everything," I told him, still refusing to turn. "Val can stay here when there's a danger of his being assassinated, but I'll take my chances elsewhere. Not many of the Families will even consider trying to kidnap me again."

"I fear I may have come at a poor time," Thandin said after another brief hesitation, the words heavy with disturbance. "You must be allowed to recover from the fatigue of your journey and the Healing of your wound. I wish you a restful night, dhana. Perhaps we may speak again on the morrow."

He lost no time getting to the door and leaving, which let me abandon my place by the wall. The salon had a well-stocked bar which I rarely made use of, but this seemed to be a night for firsts. I poured myself a drink and took it to a chair, sitting down as I became aware of being more tired than I'd been earlier.

Thandin always tried so hard to help, but his methods rarely agreed with me. I knew I'd hurt him by saying I would move out of the House, but he'd given me very little choice. I'd been looking forward to starting another baby with Val, but Thandin had made it all sound almost obscene. His comments had spoiled my taste for the entire thing, and I was glad now that I'd be gone when Val got home. I doubt if I would have been able to welcome him very enthusiastically…

I finished my drink slowly, put the glass away and went to my bathing room to swim for a short while, and then I went to bed.